Getting filled in on prospects lays groundwork for baseball

ON FANTASY SPORTS

The Kickoff

February 01, 2007|By CHILDS WALKER

Sometimes, I toss about the names of ballplayers who may not be familiar to the casual fan or even the casual fantasy baseball player. I do this without much introduction or explanation, and I wonder if it's occasionally a disservice.

The guys bound to be least familiar to the masses are prospects. So, in an attempt to lay better groundwork for this year's baseball coverage, I'm devoting this space to an introductory list of interesting talents who may play their first full or partial major league seasons in 2007. I'm not counting Daisuke Matsuzaka. He's good and you know who he is.

Kansas City Royals third baseman Alex Gordon enters 2007 as the prospect kingpin. He's not 100 percent certain to open the season in Kansas City, because Mark Teahen played well there last year. But Gordon dominated Double-A in every way and could immediately hit .280 with 25 homers and 15 steals in the big leagues. He's the next David Wright, so you want to buy in now.

His teammate, Billy Butler, may be an even better hitter, but Butler has a horrid defensive reputation. He may not start with the Royals but should hit .300 with 15- to 20-homer power the moment he arrives.

If Gordon is the gold standard among hitters, Philip Hughes of the New York Yankees is his pitching equivalent. Hughes has everything - an ideal build, the classic combination of power stuff and excellent control and great performance at every level of the minors. The right-hander may start the season at Triple-A, but try to snap him up as a reserve in your draft and auction.

The Cincinnati Reds' Homer Bailey gets nearly as much hype as Hughes and also might reach the majors this season, but I think spottier command will delay his success a bit longer.

Matt Garza of the Minnesota Twins and Yovani Gallardo of the Milwaukee Brewers may not be quite as beloved by prospect evaluators, but they combine high strikeout and low walk totals that tell me I want to stow them away.

The San Francisco Giants' Tim Lincecum could blow them all away with a fastball and curve that both rate at the top of scouting scales. It's not clear where Lincecum will start the season or if he'll remain a starter, but get him whenever you have a shot.

Towering 2005 pick Mike Pelfrey rocketed to the big leagues with the New York Mets last year but posted a 5.48 ERA and looked a bit lost. He was good in the minors, so he'll probably be back in New York at some point in 2007 and could post a league-average ERA and decent strikeout numbers. Pelfrey might make a good fifth or sixth starter for National League-only teams. Fellow Mets pitcher Philip Humber could join him.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have cleared the way for outfielder Chris Young to start, and his combination of power and speed makes him an immediately appealing fantasy option. I expect a .270 average, 20 homers and 20 steals, which would make him a solid fourth or fifth outfielder in mixed leagues and a borderline star in NL-only formats.

Many fans know Tampa Bay Devil Rays outfielder Delmon Young as the hot head who flung his bat at an umpire last year. But before that, he was considered the best prospect in baseball, and he stood out in a late-season call-up. Young could stand more plate patience and hasn't hit with great power at higher levels, but he and Chris Young may have the best shots at winning jobs and helping your fantasy team.

Tampa Bay's cupboard is full in general. Evan Longoria was the best hitter in last year's draft and could be the next big thing at third base after Gordon. And 6-foot-9 Jeff Niemann could give the Devil Rays the power pitcher they desperately need to pair with Scott Kazmir.

Outfielder Felix Pie has been the Chicago Cubs' great hope for a few years, and he showed at Triple-A that his performance might be catching up to his athletic ability. I expect to see a .270 average with 15 homers and 15 steals, which would make him useful in NL-only leagues.

Corey Patterson's brother, Eric, may be blocked by Mark DeRosa in Chicago, but if he wins a job, he could give you a nice mix of speed, decent power and a passable batting average at second base.

The Chicago White Sox have two interesting prospects in third baseman Josh Fields, who could give you 20 homers and 10 steals this year, and outfielder Ryan Sweeney, who will rely more on batting average for his value.

Fantasy players always look for Colorado Rockies prospects because Coors Field eases their transition to the big leagues. Troy Tulowitzki may not be a great hitter at shortstop, but .280 and 10 to 15 homers will do you fine in an NL-only format. And Chris Iannetta could be the rare catcher who hits .300 with a bit of sock.

Few teams are poised to churn out more young stars than the Los Angeles Dodgers. If starter Chad Billingsley can harness his control, he could help many fantasy teams this year. First baseman James Loney could be his generation's Mark Grace - not a star but an affordable .300 hitter. Third baseman Andy LaRoche looks like more of a power threat. Both hitters are ready, though the Dodgers may not offer the at-bats they need in 2007.

Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Adam Lind faces plenty of competition for a job but brings a big league-ready bat to the battle. He could hit .290 with 20 homers.

Third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff tore up the minors for the Cleveland Indians last season and, at age 25, should help the Padres this year. His home stadium may limit him, but a .280 average and 12 to 15 homers are reasonable projections.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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